Friday, 10 April 2009

Black Swan Green

Intially I was sceptical.  I'd read David Mitchell's much-celebrated Cloud Atlas some time ago, and I didn't think much of it.  Perhaps I would look at if differently now.  But I'd been given Black Swan Green  - with a glowing recommendation - so I thought I'd give it a try.  I loved it.

It's the narrative voice that makes this novel.     It's 1982, and Mitchell's narrator, Jason Taylor is thirteen.  Jason's voice is authentic and engaging.  The everyday details of his life become something more than the sum of their parts due to the strength of the narrative voice.  You're immediately drawn into his world all the issues surrounding growing up: making friends, discovering who you are - and trying to uncover the mysteries of the opposite sex.  The novel also deals with more difficult issues such as bullying, divorce, racism and the effects of the Falklands War upon a small community.

Mitchell's liberal use of italics for emphasis helps to bring Jason's voice to life.   The contrast between what Jason says and what he thinks is revealing, amusing and sometimes painfully poignant.  Jason has a secret - he writes poetry - and a stammer, both of which he's keen to keep under wraps.  Any weakness would be mercilessly exploited by the in-crowd.  Black Swan Green depicts the tyranny of the adolescent society in detail so vivid you feel it. 

It's the sign of a good novel that when you reach the last page you feel a certain sense of loss that here's no more.  It's like any other enjoyable, finite experience.  You want it to continue, although at the same time, there's a part of you that knows if you did carry on, it wouldn't be quite as pleasurable.

I turned the last page of Black Swan Green reluctantly.

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